Paintings by Shin Hanga Artists
New York Asia Week, September 15-24, 2008
view the online exhibition > >
Scholten Japanese Art and Ryo Iida Asian Art are pleased to announce our eighth collaborative exhibition: Paintings by Shin Hanga Artists, opening Monday, September 15, 2008. This exhibition is focused on paintings from the early to mid-20th century by artists who designed shin-hanga or "new prints". The show will include 15 paintings, with works by Watanabe Seitei (1851-1918), Ogata Gekko (1859-1920), Kaburagi Kiyokata (1878-1972), Kitano Tsunetomi (1880-1947), Kawase Hasui (1883-1957), Yamamura Koka (1885-1942), Kobayakawa Kiyoshi (1896-1948), Ito Shinsui (1898-1972), and Torii Kotondo (1900-1976).
Shin-hanga, literally, 'new prints,' is a term used to collectively describe prints of a genre which emerged in the early 20th century and sought to revitalize traditional Japanese woodblock printmaking (usually produced by a publisher who employed professional carvers and printers). In recent years, there has been significant growth in the appreciation of shin-hanga internationally (reflected in ever-increasing prices on the market), and while many fine print compositions are well-known and sought-after in the West, original paintings by designers of shin-hanga are not as commonly exhibited. This exhibition offers an opportunity for shin-hanga collectors to be exposed to something new by these sought-after artists: original works of art.
During the Meiji (1868-1912), Taisho (1912-1926) and early Showa (1926-1989) periods, Japan experienced tremendous changes and modernization: and the world of Japanese printmaking was not an exception. Production of Japanese woodblock prints, or ukiyo-e (lit. 'art of the floating world') waned as more efficient printing and reproduction technologies, such as lithography and photography, were adopted. However, while traditional Japanese woodblock prints may have been largely forgotten domestically by the early 20th century, European and American artists and collectors had a tremendous admiration of ukiyo-e. Ironically, Japanese students of yoga (Western-style painting), who journeyed to the West to further their studies, discovered that their own heritage, particularly ukiyo-e, was highly influential abroad.
Meanwhile, in Japan, some of the traditional woodblock printing techniques carried on: primarily in the service of issuing high-quality reproduction facsimiles. One publisher who was keenly aware of the importance of the artistic legacy of ukiyo-e was Watanabe Shozaburo (1885-1962). Watanabe established his print business in 1906, offering antique ukiyo-e and publishing small-format prints for export and lavish reproduction anthologies which allowed him to assemble a printing studio of skilled block carvers and printers who strove to replicate nearly lost printing techniques. His experience undoubtedly helped him realize the potential to update and revitalize ukiyo-e for the modern era. By the mid-1910's and into the 1920's, Watanabe actively sought out new artists with whom he could work, recruiting from both traditional Japanese painting (Nihon-ga) and Western style painting (yoga) circles. His intention was to produce a new type of art, Western-influenced but utilizing Japanese printing techniques and subjects. This new genre came to be known as 'shin-hanga.'
The artists associated with this movement tended to incorporate Western elements into their prints, such as point perspective and the effects of light and shadow, while depicting classical ukiyo-e themes such as landscapes, beautiful women, actors and nature prints. Interestingly, traditional paintings by these artists occasionally display hints of Western influences as well.
An untitled portrait of a beauty in profile, by Kitano Tsunetomi (ink and colors on silk, 104 by 41 cm.), depicts an elegant woman wearing a pink kimono decorated with white hibiscus and dark leaves along the hem. The leaves are subtly rendered using tarashikomi (lit. 'dripping-in'), a technique associated with the Rimpa school (beginning in the 17th century) of adding color to wet ink which creates pooling of the pigment. Her hair is in a softly assembled chignon which was in style in Japan at the turn of the 19th century- an influence of Victorian-era fashions worn by Western tourists. While the subject of a standing beauty and tarashikomi technique are both very Japanese, the brushwork is unexpectedly loose and the overall affect seems to capture the confluence of influences of the era.
"Summer Mountain," ink and color on silk (138 by 50 cm) by Yamamura Koka, is an unusual amalgam of influences. The fanciful mountainous view is evocative of Chinese paintings of mythical landscapes, while the use of lapis blue and malachite green are reminiscent of yamato-e, a native Japanese painting style which was associated with the Tosa school of painters and the Imperial court. The combination of the palette, composition and brush-work achieves an abstraction that is thoroughly modern. Koka is best-known for his shin-hanga actor prints; this work, a complete departure from that expectation, demonstrates his skill as a painter and serves to remind us that we have often restricted our understanding of artists by limiting ourselves to their published prints.
The exhibition opens Monday, September 15th and continues through Wednesday, September 24th. Scholten Japanese Art, located at 145 West 58th Street, Suite 6D, is open Monday through Friday, and some Saturdays, 11am to 5pm, by appointment. To schedule an appointment please call 212.585.0474.
For the duration of the exhibition, September 15th 24th, the gallery will have general open hours (no appointments needed) Mon. - Sat., 12 to 5pm.